The Past As Present
Retronaut, a blog about all things old and cool.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: March 7th, 2012
t’s such a head-slappingly obvious idea that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before. Or maybe it has but just not well enough to attract attention. Enter Retronaut.co, a website dedicated to every cool thing from every previous generation, or at least every previous generation since the advent of photography, all lovingly collected, catalogued and displayed, without unnecessary editorial blandishment.
Silent-era movie posters, photographs of the interior of the Titanic, a page entitled “Palettes of Famous Painters,” a picture of a copy of Radiohead’s OK Computer, on floppy disk, and a personal favorite, a gallery called “David Bowie Being Normal, 1966-2004,” which features pictures of the Thin White Duke doing things like sitting down reading a book, talking on the phone, taking a bath, eating on a plane, and performing other un-rock-star-like tasks.
Chris Wilde, who created the site in 2010, says Retronaut grew out of his lifelong obsession with time travel.
"Retronaut shows people that nobody ever lived in the past, they lived in their own version of ‘now’." — Retronaut CEO Chris Wild
“My one goal in life was to go back in time,” Wild said. “I found that building a working time machine was very difficult. But there were certain images, photographs, pictures, videos and sounds, which gave me an experience close to time travel. It was as though they showed me not the past, but another version of now. I started Retronaut to showcase this material.”
The site is organized in two different ways: Clusters and Categories. It’s a brilliant method, as it allows you to search by broad themes (Clusters) like “Things That Time Forgot,” (with things like a 53-year-old love letter found in a Pennsylvania university mail room), “First/Last/Oldest,” (featuring an ad for the first laptop, from 1981) or “Ghosts Of...” (a collection of modern photographs with much older photos of the exact same location blended together in Photoshop), or by specific category, such as “Art,” “Celebs,” “Objects,” or “Steampunk” (the site’s one concession to the modern era, at least it’s a trend that combines various retro obsessions).
One of the cooler things on the site, and that’s quite a distinction, since nearly every single thing on this site is cool, is a gallery of original patent drawings for many now ubiquitous games and toys. There’s the first drawing of the Monopoly board, the first official renderings of the Slinky, the Etch-a-Sketch, and G.I. Joe, among others.
Retronaut gets to the heart of what makes “retro” so endlessly fascinating. It’s not about wishing you were in the past so much as finding ways to reinvent the present.
“I want to demonstrate that progress is not linear, and that we are able to curate our ‘now’ in any way we wish,” explained Wild. “Retronaut shows people that nobody ever lived in the past, they lived in their own version of ‘now’.”
Speaking of time, be forewarned, this is a site you can, and will, get totally lost in. So be prepared to surrender a few hours of your life. You won’t be sorry.